Eeek! Are Bedbugs Becoming National Security Issue?

Bedbugs are so bad that the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in.

August 18, 2010, 12:40 PM

Aug. 18, 2010 — -- In recent days, bedbugs have become such an issue in several states that local governments are now pleading for federal help.

At least five states have called on the Department of Defense pleading for money to get rid of the pesky bloodsuckers.

Cincinnati is the latest city forced to deal with the tiny reddish-brown insects that are mostly found near one's bed in cracks and crevices. These scratch-inducing pests can even live without feeding for 18 months.

"Hopefully, we're going to see more resources devoted to things such as educational things, resources to perhaps to help pay for treatment," said Camille Jones, assistant health commissioner for the Cincinnati Health Department.

The state of Ohio was so desperate that it petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to allow in-home use of a pesticide called propoxur, which was banned out of concern for its effect on children. That request was denied.

On Wednesday, the EPA, decided the problem was serious enough to warrant hosting a meeting in Columbus, Ohio, today to conjure up a solution. And while bedbugs are not yet a national security issue, the meeting did include representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Defense.

The bugs were eradicated from the U.S. around the end of World War II, but in the last decade have been making a comeback.

"There is a resurgence all across the board," said Jeff White of Bed Bug Central. "This is a very serious problem right now. Alaska is seeing an 800 percent increase in bedbug infestation."

Bedbugs have forced people out of their apartments in Lexington, Ky.

In Fort Worth, Texas, the city housing authority spent half a million dollars in an unsuccessful attempt to rid an apartment building of the pests.

Also, in Seattle, calls to exterminators are up 70 percent in the last two years.

But it seems as though the Big Apple has seen the brunt of the bedbug attack, with the city receiving nearly 11,000 complaints last year.

Just this week, one of the largest movie theatres in New York City, AMC Empire 25 in Times Square, announced that it was closing its doors to deal with an infestation problem. It since has reopened.

"We have taken aggressive and proactive steps to help ensure our theatres remain free of bedbugs," said theatre spokesman Justin Scott.

Tips to Stay Bedbug Free

The AMC incident comes just a week after Time Inc. announced that its headquarters at Columbus Circle in New York had rid itself of the insects. Before that, outbreaks were reported at various stores, including stores from the chains Victoria's Secret, Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch, which had to close two of its stores. The bedbug issue is so prevalent that the New York City Council has created an advisory board to deal with the issue.

Last week, the EPA warned consumers about using outdoor pesticides in homes to control the problem. Instead, residents can invest in protective covers to fully encase their mattresses to combat the pesky critters. There also are traps that can be placed under bed legs to catch bedbugs, which don't have wings.

Homeowners also can choose extermination, but it's a process that easily could cost anywhere from $800 to $1,200.

The EPA has advised consumers to reduce clutter, vacuum often and dry infested clothes at high temperatures. If traveling, one should inspect hotel rooms for possible pests and the dark dots that they leave behind. Travelers are advised to keep their luggage off the floor and to zip their belongings up.

"These bugs can travel with people wherever they go," White said. "So, you are going to see these bugs popping up in these areas probably for the foreseeable future."

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